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Sunday, March 29, 2020

Firefighter's demotion over personal Facebook post challenged in court


By Takesha Thomas | Nov 25, 2018

General court 4

MIAMI — A Broward County firefighter claims he was wrongfully demoted for his social-media opposition to a civil suit involving a victim of the Stoneman Douglas High School shootings.

Richard Stroes filed the complaint against the Town of Davie on Nov. 13 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. Stroes, a former lieutenant for the Town of Davie Fire Department, alleges that he was twice demoted by the town in July after he posted, on his personal Facebook account, opposition to a civil suit filed against a gun manufacturer by the father of one of the school shooting victims.

Stroes claims that although he removed the post on his own, he was still demoted. He is now asking for a jury trial to have the town rescind his demotion, reinstate his position as lieutenant along with the seniority classification as well as compensatory damages, punitive damages, back pay and future pay, interest and attorneys' fees.

"Understanding the questionable nature of its conduct, the Town tried to artificially validate its unlawful conduct by summarily stating that the Post 'created a legitimate concern that it had the potential to be a significant source of embarrassment and public turmoil in this Department and for the Town,'" according to the lawsuit.

Stroes has worked for the town since September 2004. He was initially hired as a firefighter and later promoted to a driver engineer. In April this year, he was promoted to lieutenant.

However, according to the lawsuit, "the Town admittedly demoted Stroes in response to a Facebook post."  

Stroes said that in May he posted to his personal Facebook account comments relating to gun rights. His attorneys claim that the post did not make any mention of Stroes' employment with the Town of Davies or that he was a firefighter for the municipality.

In the post, Stroes disagreed with a decision by one of the victims' parents from the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting to sue the gun manufacturer of the weapon used by the school shooter.

Stroes' lawsuit contends that "Stroes believed there were better ways to take remedial action following the horrific shootings. Stroes deemed it a mistake to seek monetary compensation from the gun manufacturer."

His post referred to the parent of the victim as a “scumbag” because the lawsuit sought to make money "in connection with the death of his child," the suit says.

Stroes claims that the Town of Davies summarily demoted Stroes mistaking his inartful speech for unprotected speech. In doing so, Stroes claims, the town exceeded its governmental powers and violated his first amendment rights.

Stroes was demoted from his position as lieutenant to the position of firefighter, a double demotion. A standard demotion would have placed Stroes in a driver engineer position, the lawsuit contends.

Stoes' attorneys argue that he should not have been demoted, adding that he voluntarily deleted the posts and there were no protests or uproars as a result of the post.

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U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida Fort Lauderdale Division